This is part of a series where we discuss a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.
As a kid, the beginning of summer was marked by the following ritual: My family would wake up at the crack of dawn, drive an hour away to the berry fields of Watsonville, and spend the morning toiling in the hot California sun picking olallieberries, which would be squirreled away so that it would last us until the next year’s picking season. I would always wonder why I agreed to go (although I guess most 7 year-olds don’t really have a say in anything). Didn’t my immigrant grandparents spend enough time picking produce so that I wouldn’t have to? Was all this manual labor really worth it for just one stupid berry?
As an adult, I now know the answer: Yes, yes it is.
Olallieberries don’t just have a unique name – they truly are geographically unique. Olallieberries are almost exclusively cultivated in California and are a cross between a loganberry and youngberry, both of which are hybrids of other berries. Olallieberries are the mutts of the berry world, and if you live anywhere other than California, you’ve probably never had the privilege of trying one (sorry, suckers). Even some Californians are ignorant of its existence due to the scarcity of growing areas and the short picking season, which typically only lasts six weeks out of the year.
So what differentiates an olallieberry from, say, a blackberry? Appearance-wise, the blackberry and olallieberry are very similar. However, while the olallieberry is sweet like a blackberry, it also has a raspberry-ish tartness that’s like a jolt to your taste buds. Its taste and texture make it perfect for pies, muffins, jam, pastries, and even wine.
As a last homage to summer, we wanted to share with you our recipe for Olallieberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes, which are moist lemon cupcakes filled with a cream cheese berry mixture and topped with a sugar glaze. Because of the aforementioned scarcity of olallieberries, feel free to replace the olallieberries with another berry of your choice. While these cupcakes make a decadent dessert, you can also eat them for breakfast with your morning coffee (I know I did!).
Lemon Olallieberry Cream Cheese Cupcakes (Yield: 24 cupcakes)
For cupcake batter:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 3 lemon peels)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
For cream cheese filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 cup berries (heaping)
For vanilla glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare your muffin tins by lining them with cupcake liners.
- Begin by preparing the cream cheese filling. Cream together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Mix in the egg. When mixture is uniform, add in the berries. Mix just enough so that berries are distributed throughout the cream cheese, but not enough to break apart the berries.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add in one egg at a time, mixing after each, then add in vanilla.
- Prepare your lemon juice and lemon zest. If you are using lemon juice from a real lemon, remember to strain the juice before adding to the cupcake batter (even miniscule seeds can make your batter bitter). Add the lemon zest and juice to the butter mixture.
- In a separate bowl sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture in 1/3 cup increments. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients and adding the milk. Mix batter until just combined – do not overmix.
- Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full, then add a tablespoon of cream cheese filling in the center. If you like your cupcakes heaping, add more batter on top of the cream cheese filling. Bake for 20 minutes or until cupcake is springy to the touch.
- While cupcakes are baking, prepare the vanilla glaze. In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix until it forms a creamy glaze. If the icing is too thick, add in ½ a tablespoon of milk until it reaches a consistency you like.
- When cupcakes are ready, remove them from the muffin tin and allow to cool. When they’re completely cool, decorate them with the vanilla glaze.